by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
One of the beauties of resin kits is that they allow for models that would be uneconomical even as short-run injection moulding. This opens up the possibility of some really appealing subjects - aircraft that were either one-offs or only produced in small numbers.
A case in point is the Aero-304 - an attractive bomber/reconnaissance aircraft developed for the Czech military from the A-204 airliner. The first prototype flew in September 1938 and the design was accepted for production. With the German invasion, the Aero-304 was modified for limited Luftwaffe service as a training and transport aircraft, with all armament and the dorsal turret removed. The type also served with the Bulgarian air force, where it was nicknamed the "Pelikan".
The kitThe Planet Models kit arrives in a very sturdy flip-top box, with the parts sealed inside clear plastic pouches. The box was padded with polystyrene foam chips - but ironically, despite this precaution, the sample had still taken a few knocks in transit. The damage was confined to one fuselage half: a moulding attachment had snapped off taking a small section of the fuselage with it, and the windscreen frame was broken. Both are easily repaired, but it's obviously a shame to see any kit arrive damaged, especially when it's clear that someone has taken a little extra care packing everything.
The Aero A-304 comprises:
84 x standard beige resin parts
4 x strong resin parts
7 x vacuformed clear parts (plus a complete set of spares)
1 x resin clear part
Decals for 2 x colour schemes
The casting of the review sample is excellent, with no signs of bubbles or other flaws, and just a bit of wispy flash here and there. Most parts are still attached to their casting plinths, so a little while removing them and cleaning things up will be required. The exterior surface has a silky feel, with fine scribed panel lines and very convincing fabric-covered look - no "saggy sackcloth" here, but a drum-tight finish as you'd expect on a well-maintained airframe.
Construction should be reasonably straightforward. The fuselage halves are nice and straight, and all the panel lines match up perfectly. The wings are cast in quite an interesting way; the outer panels are solid (with impressively sharp trailing edges) leaving just the inboard section and nacelles split into upper and lower halves to allow for the wheel-wells. The wings and tailplanes are butt-joints to the fuselage, so you may want to consider adding reinforcement to keep everything stable. With the parts dry-fitted to get an idea of the look of the beast, it's clear the resulting model promises to be quite an impressive size.
Clear partsThe transparencies are unusual in being made in two ways. The cockpit canopy, turret, fuselage windows and landing lamp covers are vacuformed, while the nose section is clear resin. This makes perfect sense in principle, because trying to vacuform the nose in one piece would risk over-attenuation, so it would have to be broken down into sections that would be awkward to assemble. The vacuformed parts are very nice and clear, with quite crisply defined frames - and a welcome touch is the inclusion of a spare for each part in case of accidents.
Sadly, the resin nose in the review sample isn't so successful, not because of the way it's cast, but simply because the actual resin isn't as clear as the vacuformed parts. As you can see in the photo at the right, it looks cloudy by comparison. I think it'll be worth making a mould from it and casting a replacement out of the type of crystal-clear resin used for jewellery and ornaments - even casting it sold shouldn't be a problem as there's no interior detail.
A few detailsThe inside of the fuselage halves are cast basically blank, except for a single stringer running above the line of the windows. The cockpit parts are neatly done though, with a full-length floor onto which attach nicely cast seats and flying controls. The main instrument panel is neatly detailed, and a simple bulkhead separates the cockpit from the rear cabin. It's clear that Planet Models also plan to release the kit as the Luftwaffe version with no turret fitted, because a section of the roof must be cut out to install the turret base.
The engines are nicely detailed, with individual cylinders and crankcases and two-blade wooden propellers. The cowls feature separate exhausts and intakes which are ready hollowed-out.
The completed model is likely to be fairly heavy, so it's good to see that the main undercarriage legs are cast in denser resin than the rest of the kit. Even so. it still may be wise to provide some extra support for the model when it's not on display - I've seen smaller and lighter resin kits than this wilt in hot weather.
Instructions and decalsThe instructions are clearly laid out and break the assembly down into 16 logical stages. The illustrations are photos of a prototype model under construction. I'm not always a fan of this style, but it works well enough in this instance, and I can't foresee any areas of confusion.
There are no painting suggestions for the interior (presumably it was light grey?...), but the two colour schemes for which decals are provided are nicely illustrated with a full-colour painting guide. The two aircraft depicted are:
A. The prototype A-304, S19, in Czech markings.
B. An anonymous production A-304 in Bulgarian service.
The decals themselves look excellent quality, printed by Aviprint in perfect registration, with thin glossy items and crystal-clear carrier film.
ConclusionPlanet Models' Aero A-304 promises to be an enjoyable build of an attractive, and rather unusual subject. I wouldn't recommend it to beginners, but modellers with a bit of experience working with resin kits should hit few problems, thanks to the logical design and very well cast parts. The completed model will almost certainly turn a few heads wherever it's shown as people try to guess its identity. Recommended.
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